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Researching the Letters and Papers of Sir Walter Raleigh – Guest Post by Tony Riches

The cell in the Tower of London where Raleigh was imprisoned
The cell in the Tower of London where Raleigh was imprisoned (Tony Riches photo)

I am delighted to feature a guest post by Tony Riches – the author of wonderful novels of Tudor England including his most recent Raleigh, Tudor Adventurer which he spent the last two years writing. Tony had access to Raleigh’s surviving letters, and was able to uncover details which even the authorized biographers overlooked. Perhaps more important, the letters gave him an authentic sense of Raleigh’s voice, a way for him to tell the story of a Tudor adventurer, courtier, explorer, and poet – a man who didn’t dance or joust, didn’t come from a noble family or marry into one. It sounds amazing, and for now, Tony takes us through some of the wonderful gems he found in Raleigh’s correspondence…

Over to Tony…


I’ve developed a system of researching during the summer months, writing through the autumn and winter, then editing in the spring.  For my research, I like visiting the actual locations used in my books, and tracking down primary sources. In the case of Walter Raleigh, I also studied his surviving letters and papers.

Raleigh’s personal archive was scattered widely, with many of his papers thought to be lost. Fortunately for me, the late Professor of English at Bedford College, Agnes Latham, spent her life discovering and transcribing over two hundred of Raleigh’s letters, assisted by the work of the late Devon historian Joyce Youings, who was Emeritus Professor of English Social History at the University of Exeter. Agnes Latham also collected all surviving examples of Raleigh’s poetry, adding her invaluable commentary.

As well as offering me an authentic sense of Raleigh’s ‘voice’ and how he addressed others of the Elizabethan Court, these letters were a great help in sorting out the often confusing timeline of events. I was of aware of Raleigh’s tendency to exaggerate, flatter and posture in his writing, but there is no better way to develop an understanding of his motives. Here is an example, in a short excerpt from my new book:

Once my work was done, I was arrested and escorted back to the Tower, but not before giving Thomas Harriot my letter to Robert Cecil, which I had spent long hours writing, and hoped he would think to show to the queen. As my cell door slammed shut, I recalled my chosen words.

My heart was never broken til this day that I hear the queen goes so far off, whom I have followed so many years with so great love and desire, in so many journeys, and am now left behind in a dark prison. She is gone, in whom I trusted, and of me hath not one thought of mercy, nor any respect of that that was. Do with me therefore what you wish. I am more weary of life than they are desireth I should perish.

Yours not worthy any name or title, W. R.

In a letter to his wife, Bess, from his Guiana, (where he was searching for the lost city of gold, El Dorado, we see a very different side to Raleigh from that in his official account for the queen and his investors:

Sweet Heart,

I Can yet write unto you but with a weak hand, for I have suffered the most violent Calenture for fifteen days, that ever man did, and lived: but God that gave me a strong heart in all my adversities, hath also now strengthened it in the hell fire of heat. We have had two most grievous sicknesses in our Ship, of which fourtie two have died, and there are yet many sick. but having recovered the land of Guiana, this 12 of November, I hope we shall recover them. We are yet two hundred men, and the rest of our Fleet are reasonable strong, strong enough I hope to perform what we have undertaken, if the diligent care at London, to make our strength known to the Spanish King by his Ambassador, have not taught the Spanish King to fortify all the entrances against us; howsoever we must make the adventure, and if we perish, it shall be no honour for England, nor gain for his Majesty to loose among many other, an hundred as valiant gentlemen as England hath in it. To tell you that I might be here King of the Indian, were a vanity, but my name hath still lived among them; here they feed me with fresh meat, and all that the Country yields, all offer to obey me. Commend me to poor Carew my son.

From Galliana in Guiana, the 14 of November.

Raleigh’s letters, which cover fascinating details of daily life, as well as his great adventures and disasters, are some of the best examples of the Elizabethan period. They reveal his strengths and weaknesses, as a courtier and failed politician, soldier and poet, a man ready to speak up for the poor and to honour his debts. My hope is that my new book, Raleigh – Tudor Adventurer, will help readers see beyond the myths and half-truths, and have a better understanding of the man who has been called the last true Elizabethan.


Raleigh, Tudor Adventurer is the latest in Tony’s Elizabethan Series, which features the stories of the era’s most intriguing figures. Tony is a full-time UK author of Tudor historical fiction, including his best-selling Tudor trilogy and his Brandon trilogy (about Charles Brandon and his wives). For more information about Tony’s books, please visit his website and his blog, The Writing Desk. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches


If you like my posts, you’ll love my books! My Seymour Saga trilogy tells the gripping story of the short-lived dynasty that shaped the Tudor Era. Jane the Quene skews romantic, The Path to Somerset is pure Game of Thrones (without the dragons), and The Boy King is a noir coming-of-age. Get them now through AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and Apple, or even your local independent bookstore!

The cell in the Tower of London where Raleigh was imprisoned

(PS Already read them? Did you love them? Then please review them – even just a stars rating! It makes a huge difference in helping new readers find them and would mean the world to me!)

Researching the Letters and Papers of Sir Walter Raleigh - Guest Post by Tony Riches
Published inGuest Posts


  1. LolaBlanche LolaBlanche

    Very interesting article on Sir Walter Raleigh. Thanks again for all you do in sharing this valuable historical information. It is very much appreciated

  2. David Wildman David Wildman

    Really enjoyed reading this. I’m currently researching for a biography on Raleigh, and found Tony’s comments about getting to know Walter more deeply really encouraging. As someone Plymouth-born, I’m definitely going to check out his book on Drake!

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